Interview + Premiere: Stress Fractures—’Short Films’ EP

Posted: by The Editor

Photo by Olivia Keasling

The three songs that comprise Short Films, the fourth EP from Charlotte emo punk outfit Stress Fractures, almost never saw the light of day. 

As Martin Hacker-Mullen, who fronts the band and writes all the music, was working on what will become Stress Fractures’ debut LP, they found that three of the 12 planned songs didn’t match the flow of the LP “at all.” Though the trio could mesh “musically,” lyrically, they were way too different. “I was in two completely different headspaces when I wrote both pieces of music,” Hacker-Mullen, 23, says by phone. 

So Hacker-Mullen’s first instinct was to scrap the songs altogether. Thankfully, rhythm guitarist Eric Smeal, 23, brought Hacker-Mullen to their senses. 

“I like the songs, but I didn’t know what to do with them,” Hacker-Mullen says. “I played really shitty demos for Eric, and they were like, ‘Why would you get rid of these songs?!’ So we ended up just making an EP out of it.”

The resulting Short Films lives up to its name, coming in at a tidy 6:16. But while the lyrics convey that Hacker-Mullen was going through it while writing the songs, the EP itself is a bop; a blend of noodly, intricate lead guitarwork and energetic drum fills. (Seth Wesner, who plays drums in Hacker-Mullen’s and Smeal’s other band, Dollhands, drums on the EP.) Liz Neyman, 21, keeps everything grounded on bass. 

Hacker-Mullen grew up listening to skate punk and pop punk. When writing music for Stress Fractures—including 2018 EPs Don’t Close Your Eyes and Rock and Roll is Dead and 2019 EPs Spring Break and Summer Vacationthey “wanted to have the same energy and aggression those bands could carry. . .but none of them were really good at guitar, so when I discovered guitar rock music I made it my goal to blend all three together. It’s been fun.”

As a result, you won’t hear any basic three-chord progressions on Short Films, whose songs also rarely follow a verse-chorus pop format. Stress Fractures aren’t afraid to use the “e word” in self-description, so it’s no surprise other emo bands have heavily influenced Hacker-Mullen’s songwriting. Writing the songs that would become Short Films—”Double Feature–Lesson;” “Double Feature–Spine;” and “Credit Roll–Note to Self,” there are three records in particular Hacker-Mullen returned to over and again. 

“Evan Weiss was a huge influence, specifically Proper, the Into It. Over it. record. That’s one of my favorite albums of all time,” Hacker-Mullen says. “It has incredible guitar work. It’s just a pop album that emo kids branded, and I kind of loved that; that’s what I want to roll with, too.”

Hacker-Mullen was also listening to a lot of Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American and Tiny Moving Parts’ Celebrate; the latter immediately becomes obvious upon hearing Short Films’ jangly bits. “I can’t ignore how much they changed my ability to write,” Hacker-Mullen says. “When I discovered that band, I was like, ‘I could be playing guitar a lot better.’ I thought playing guitar like them would make me cool. I don’t know if it did.”

Short Films comes out Friday on Acrobat Unstable Records, the label Smeal’s dad, Greg, runs along with Smeal and Hacker-Mullen, with Neyman helping out, too. The label also put out Short Fictions’ Fates Worse Than Death and The Callous Daoboys’ Die on Mars, both of which blew up, putting the indie label on the map. 

Stress Fractures were supposed to be heading out on a Northeast tour in May to support the EP, but COVID-19 had other plans. It’s even more disappointing because the band believes that of all their music, Short Films in particular translates to live performances best. 

“The release was going to be on the first day of tour, and we decided to push it forward a week rather than sit on it. I say ‘sitting on’ as if we had it recorded for a long time,” Hacker-Mullen adds, but in fact, they recorded the EP about two weeks after Hacker-Mullen showed Smeal the rough demos, with the final mix and master coming back a week later. Jake Checkoway, who produced Origami Angel’s Somewhere City and Short Fictions’ Fates Worse Than Death, mixed and mastered Short Films

“We really just jumped on it while the world is standing still,” Hacker-Mullen says of the band, which has essentially been quarantining together in Charlotte. “It’s very easy to get these things done very quickly. We’re pretty inseparable anyway, we’re always together, so we were just like, ‘Why don’t we just do this?’”

Stream Short Films below in full ahead of its release this Friday via Acrobat Unstable:

Follow Stress Fractures on: Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Michelle Bruton | @MichelleBruton

The Alternative is ad-free and 100% supported by our readers. If you’d like to help us produce more content and promote more great new music, please consider donating to our Patreon page, which also allows you to receive sweet perks like free albums and The Alternative merch.